Makens’ vision for Oak Tree Energy comes to fruition

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Farm Forum

After several years of planning, a Clark County wind farm is now operational under local developer Leonard “Bill” Makens and a recent partnership with New York-based Con Edison Development.

The Oak Tree Energy wind farm is located mainly on Makens’ land north of Clark.

“It became operational December 2014, started producing power under the grid and lighting up homes throughout the land. There’s enough power there to light up 5,000-plus homes,” Makens said.

The 11 1.85 megawatt General Electric turbines have a combined capacity of 19.5 megawatts. The towers are 260 feet tall, and each blade is 147 feet long. The foundations contain approximately 400 cubic yards of concrete.

“Each foundation has – between the concrete and the dirt on top of the foundations – about five million pounds of weight,” Makens said.

Makens said they aimed to place the wind towers on the highest points of the land.

Winds of about 7 mph. or more catch the blades, driving the turbine shaft of the generator. The generator behind the blades – called a nacelle – creates electricity, which goes onto the grid and ends up on the utility wires.

According to a press release, the project will generate approximately 71,000 megawatt-hours of power annually, and electricity generated from the facility is contracted to NorthWestern Energy under a 20-year power purchase agreement. The wind farm is interconnected with NorthWestern Energy and the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) transmission systems.

“The opportunity for expansion is there,” Makens said of possibly building more.

Mark Noyes, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Con Edison Development, said in a phone interview that the company has full interest and would support an expansion.

Makens has been working on the wind turbine project since about 2007.

A smaller turbine near the Oak Tree Lodge hunting lodge building, put up several years ago, gives most of the power to the lodge buildings. It is 120 feet tall, producing 40 kilowatt-hours.

For the 11 large turbines, Makens said they started the roads in Nov. 2013 and continued in spring 2014 with finishing roads, culverts and drainage. Later in spring 2014, they started putting in the foundations, and placed the towers in late 2014.

Makens worked with Diversified Energy Solutions of Gary, Consulting Engineers Group of Farmington, Minn., and Juhl Energy of Pipestone, Minn.

Noyes said he and Makens got together and found they had the same morals and values in business. They started having discussions in late spring or early summer 2014 and executed a deal by the end of 2014.

Makens is the developer, and Con Edison Development, an unregulated subsidiary of Consolidated Edison Inc., owns, operates and maintains the wind farm.

“We are actively looking at other projects in South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska,” Noyes said.

Noyes said the company works predominantly with solar and wind projects, and is passionate about renewal and protecting the environment.

Con Edison Development also has the Broken Bow II wind farm in Nebraska.

As to why he developed the sustainable energy farm, “It’s windy,” Makens said. “One of South Dakota’s great resources is the wind, as well as its agriculture and its fishing and hunting.”

Oak Tree is not alone in the region for producing wind-generated power; a nearby Day County wind farm has 66 1.5 megawatt turbines, for 99 megawatts total.

“We’re on the northwestern edge of the Buffalo Ridge,” Makens said. “Buffalo Ridge runs in a diagonal from South Dakota through Minnesota and Iowa. And if you go three miles west of Clark, into the James River Valley, the difference in elevation from where our turbines are to three-plus miles west is 300-plus feet higher.”

Noyes said Makens and his family have dedicated time and energy to the community.

“His efforts and his care for the region are unprecedented,” he said.

Makens’s family has a long history in the area, having owned the original Oak Tree Farm land since 1901. His great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, one of his relatives fought and died in the Battle of Little Bighorn and family photos from previous generations are displayed at Oak Tree Lodge.

“We’re very pleased with the wind project. We’re glad what it could contribute to the citizens of Clark County,” Makens said.